IMAGE TALK with Noella Ballenger: What makes that photo work

Lights – Camera – Action! This was the cry originated by early film directors as they started to photograph a scene. To interpret those words in the world of still photography, perhaps one can think of them in this way…

Lights: When we look at any image, the role that light plays makes a huge difference. What direction does it come from and how intense is it? How does it affect the outcome of the image?

Camera: It is not the make or model of the camera, but it is the photographer… his eye, his technical ability, his awareness of all that will be going into the image.

Action: This word represents what is captured at the moment the photographer presses the shutter release button.

In this excellent example we have all of these elements coming together in a simple and simply beautiful image.

City Flight by Donovan Geoghegan

Subject: Dancer leaping against a backdrop of sky

Conditions: Sunset, downtown Jacksonville, FL


1. Strong silhouette engages viewer
2. Dramatic position of dancer… suggests dynamic motion

3. Frame around subject

4. Blank “canvas” of light highlights the silhouette

5. Contrast between curves and geometric lines

Noella’s Comments:

In this photograph we have many strong elements of design coming together. They are presented to create impact in a simply beautiful way. Silhouettes always have a way of grabbing attention because the subject is normally highlighted in a way that compels the viewer to see it first. Silhouettes tend to make a very strong impression.

The dramatic position of the dancer’s body as it flies through the air not only suggests dynamic motion, but causes one to wonder how the body can get into that position, much less become airborne as she does it. The position of the legs and arms and the hair flying all say movement. Again, this is an attention grabbing part of the subject’s presentation and it demands that the viewer take a closer look.

The subject is set in a cradle between the strong silhouettes of buildings and the light fixture. These act as a frame to hold the eye within the image and contribute to the overall simplicity of the design.

Silhouettes are most striking when the backdrop is clear from clutter. The simple “blank canvas” look with its low, diffused sunlit sky adds a glow and drama to the scene. It is why the silhouette stands out even more, adding to the purity of the image.

The final compositional key is a very subtle part of photographic composition, but provides even more strength to this image. Look closely at the blend of curved lines in the dancer’s body and the hard geometric lines of the surrounding elements. Contrast means subtle conflict and conflict demands one’s attention. The photographic device of contrast/conflict is a tool to be explored. It can move a photograph from the ordinary to the extraordinary in an exciting way.

Very, very nice job Donovan!

A side note about this young man:Donovan is a high school student who studies photography at Douglas-Anderson School for the Arts. I’m sure that the photography world will be hearing from him in future years.

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

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